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Surprising twist in NAB reference against Nawaz

Sharif’s

News Analysis |

In a surprising twist, the accountability court remarked that the investigation report compiled by the Joint Investigation Team is not admissible as evidence in the trial. The investigation report was prepared as per the Supreme Court’s direction by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi. However, the defense counsel Amjad Parviz argued that the JIT report was not admissible in court as evidence, citing multiple precedents including one of 1958, the JIT head sent a Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) letter of help.

Head of the JIT, Wajid Zia was present in court on Wednesday to record his statement as the final witness. While Zia was recording his statement, he was about to produce the JIT report when the defense counsel Pervez objected and said it was not admissible.

“Nothing of the JIT report can be exhibited by the witness. Zia was the investigation officer of the JIT team. Witness can only produce evidence what he himself has stated or found,” argued Parviz. The defense counsel further said, “How can Zia produce the investigation report as evidence in court of trial? Opinion of the JIT cannot be exhibited as evidence here. The statements of witnesses and accused cannot be produced here as evidence.”

Unfortunately, media in the country has misrepresented Radley’s statement and has misled the public to think the Calibri font was, in fact, available for commercial use in 2005. The inadmissibility of the JIT report as evidence in the court is the latest twist in a case that has dominated national politics ever since the Panama Papers revelations.

Amjad Pervez’s argument was that what the head of the JIT himself has collected can be considered as admissible evidence. The investigation report merely chronicles what was collected. Wajid Zia, after seeking permission from the court to speak, said, “each and every volume is connected and one can only comprehend it when produced completely and altogether.” In other words, one has to look at all parts of the JIT report collectively in order to understand the prosecution’s case against the defendant.

The prosecutor then argued that Zia was appearing as a witness and not as the investigation officer. He further argued that the case was a special one where the witness has compiled the report and it can be exhibited in the trial as evidence.

Read more: PM Abbasi wants to reform NAB laws

In response, the defense counsel said that each volume of the JIT report contains a section called “summary of investigation” which carries the JIT’s opinion. Whether the defendant is guilty or not is the prerogative of the court, not the Joint Investigation Team, he argued. Parviz also argued that the Supreme Court had always referred to the JIT report as an investigation.

Wajid Zia is the final NAB witness for the case. He came prepared with documents relating to the case, including the JIT report. After him, the court may record statements from NAB investigators afterwards.

Robert Radley, a forensic expert of the Radley Forensic Document Laboratory, while being cross-examined, explained that while the Calibri font beta version was introduced in 2005, it was impossible for the general public to use it before 2007.

Former Deputy Prosecutor General NAB Shahzad Akbar has criticized the prosecution team for their lack of preparedness. “It’s a very old law that the defense cited as precedent that outside investigation reports cannot be admitted as evidence. The prosecution team should have been prepared for such moves by the defense. The JIT report should have been included by the NAB as part of its investigation,” Mr. Akbar said.

Answering a question about what this will mean for the outcome of the case, the former deputy prosecutor general of NAB said that now the prosecution will have to present all evidence found that was used to compile the JIT report before the court, analyze the evidence and go through the entire report before the accountability court. “This will delay the case further,” he said. “The evidence unearthed against the defendant has not changed. Only the form of evidence has come into question.”

Read more: Nehal Hashmi released from jail, declares NAB the most corrupt institute

Some analysts have pointed out the possibility that the huge crowds drawn by PML-N jalsas may have had an impact on the proceedings in the accountability court. Mr. Akbar rejected such analyses. “The judge is like an umpire. He does not take sides and is impartial.” Highlighting the shortcomings of NAB prosecution team, Mr. Akbar further also said,” NAB doesn’t even have a library of its own. They need to be able to do better research.”

Nawaz Sharif was disqualified as Prime Minister for not declaring his assets accurately as a candidate running for Parliament. His name had come up in the Panama Papers revelations, along with various other leaders, political and economic elites of a number of countries, all of which had wealth hidden in offshore accounts. Previously, the Joint Investigation in Pakistan constituted to investigate the affair came up with evidence that the font used in documents by the defendants was not available for commercial use when the defendants claim to have used it i.e. in 2005. It was available for commercial use from 2007 onwards.

Robert Radley, a forensic expert of the Radley Forensic Document Laboratory, while being cross-examined, explained that while the Calibri font beta version was introduced in 2005, it was impossible for the general public to use it before 2007. Unfortunately, media in the country has misrepresented Radley’s statement and has misled the public to think the Calibri font was, in fact, available for commercial use in 2005.

Read more: NAB chairman expresses his firm belief in universal accountability

The inadmissibility of the JIT report as evidence in the court is the latest twist in a case that has dominated national politics ever since the Panama Papers revelations.

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